It can be hard as a high school English teacher to stay on top of grading all the writing, reading, and speaking I ask my students to do, and yet I know the value of timely and meaningful feedback. Last year I realized that the feedback doesn’t always need to come from me—it can also be meaningful (even more meaningful for teenagers) when it comes from classmates.
Besides relieving me of some of the pressure, creating a classroom culture where students give each other feedback has helped me increase engagement and build community. Students better internalize rubric criteria and often act on suggestions from their peers. Their work becomes more relevant because they know they have an authentic audience. In addition, having more frequent interactions among students builds rapport and trust and disrupts the idea that I’m the only expert in the room.
Here’s how I solicit peer feedback at various points in the assessment process.
Soliciting Peer Feedback for Formative Assessments
At the beginning of the writing/design process: Pitches on Flipgrid. During the brainstorming stages of a personal narrative assignment, I ask my students to pitch their idea by creating a short video on Flipgrid. They provide a working title and brief synopsis of the beginning, middle, and end of their story. Then they watch and respond to the pitches of two classmates. My colleagues and I model both the pitch and the response steps with videos of our own and give written instructions to provide sentence starters for their feedback.
In your response, you can include the following:
- Questions about parts that were unclear (I didn’t get the part about...)
- Questions out of genuine curiosity (What happened next? Why were you...? What if you tried to...?)
- Connections (Something similar happened to me when...)
- Reactions (I love the part when... I could really imagine when you said... Something was missing when... I wanted to know more about...)
The results can be really exciting. Students ask each other questions, make connections to their own experiences and cultures, and give suggestions that their peers end up using in their written drafts. Sometimes they even say unexpectedly encouraging things like “I can’t wait to read it!”
During collaborative activities: Rate and recognize routines. After group activities such as book club meetings, I ask each student to individually rate their group’s collaboration using a four-point scale. Then they complete the sentence “Shout-out to... for....” I share the shout-outs (but not the numerical ratings) the next day with the whole class.
The four-point rating allows me to get a quick sense of how the group feels about their experience. If the whole group seems frustrated and rates themselves at two or one, I intervene to talk through the group dynamics. More often than not, however, the shout-outs from their peers are enough to alleviate the need for teacher intervention. Shout-outs help us focus on the positive and give students concrete examples of what good collaboration looks like and what their peers appreciate:
- Morgan did a fantastic job at finding reliable sources that contributed to our claims.
- Shout-out to Sadie for being efficient with making the group copy.
- Shout-out to Jalani for participating in our group discussion today and asking questions.
Soliciting Peer Feedback for Summative Assessments
After a Socratic seminar or graded discussion: Reflect using Google Forms. Asking students to reflect after a graded discussion is part of my regular practice, and I used to ask them to focus only on their own performance. Last year, I added two questions that focus on others:
- Give a specific example of something someone else said during this discussion that resonated with you. Explain why it stuck with you.
- Who in your Socratic circle would you like to recognize and for what?
Their responses provided insight into the moments of a Socratic seminar that I may have missed. For example, one student asked the most profound questions but shared with me in her evaluation that she felt awkward that nobody really tried to answer them. Nevertheless, her name and ideas showed up in everyone’s answer about what resonated with them. Because of the peer feedback component, I was able to assure her that she had planted a lot of seeds that day and back it up by showing her the comments from her peers.
Using Google Forms allows me to convert the responses to a spreadsheet and then easily copy comments and paste them on student rubrics.
After other performance-based assessments: Sticky notes on Jamboard.
Students in one of my classes created podcasts for the New York Times Student Podcast Contest. After listening to each podcast, students anonymously left feedback on Jamboard frames. The prompt I gave them was “What did you like about this podcast? What engaged you as a listener?”
When students had presented all of the podcasts, I asked them to complete a second feedback step: scroll back through the Jamboard frames and draw a star on the ones that podcasters should consider entering in the NYT contest. More than any encouragement I could’ve given, this final step really helped persuade students to take the risk and submit their work.
Using peer feedback in the assessment process requires consistent modeling, repetition, and a commitment to sharing the feedback with students and creating opportunities for them to act on the feedback. But the payoff is worth the effort. You’ll be working toward a classroom culture where students feel more seen, heard, valued, and, consequently, engaged in their work.